Over dinner, a friend of mine, Kate, shared her feelings of disappointment when a guy she started seeing didn’t follow through with plans in the way she was expecting. Friends at the table were quick to rally:
“What a douchebag.”
“You deserve better.”
“Don’t call him back.”
With only the best intentions at heart, the girls were only trying to be supportive and protective over their friend. However, the collective hate-fest only added fuel to the fire. What started initially as Kate feeling disappointed, suddenly snowballed into her getting worked up into a state of anger and resentment. The nervous system that was triggered by the miscommunication with her guy was now in full-blown fight mode. In this state, empathy and conscious decision making gives way to fear and anger taking control. The over-dramatization that results in situations described above is the byproduct of bad advice, and it happens way too often.
Good intentions or not, the consequences of unsolicited, bad advice can have real, destructive consequences. Here are some things to be mindful of when giving and/or receiving advice.
1. Be selective of whom you get your advice from
You know that restaurant that serves five different type of cuisines – Japanese, Vietnamese, American, Chinese and Korean food? Do you really trust that they will be great in any one kind of the cuisines offered? Likely not. Just like how one restaurant likely won’t be an expert in all types of international cuisines, the same goes for friends and advice. Your best friend who has a history of making successful investment choices may be great at providing financial advice. But that same best friend may have a history of unhealthy and toxic relationships. Thus while it may seem natural to go to her when you’re needing an ear to listen to, she probably isn’t the best equipped to give you helpful feedback in the relationship department. It’s important you you are mindful of who you seek your advice from. My approach? I have specific people who are thought leaders/experts in their field who I seek advice from. Coupled with expert opinion, I also consult my sister who knows me the best, along with a few other close friends who are emotionally healthy. Consulting with a few of the right people will help provide a more holistic perspective.
2. Before offering your unsolicited advice, ask first
Your friend may be venting to you just for an ear to listen, or a shoulder to cry on. Before you dish out your two cents, you may want to ask if the person even wants to know your opinion. Ask yourself if you are even in the position to offer advice, as you very well may be not. If you are in an unhealthy headspace or battling with a pessimistic and judgemental outlook, that negativity will likely be a major ingredient in any advice you give. But, if someone insists you provide your opinion regardless of your emotional state, preface your feedback with a disclaimer about your potential bias.
3. Stop projecting
Without even knowing we are doing it, oftentimes we project our own issues – our history, our wounds, our insecurities and our ego when giving advice, For example, perhaps you’ve had a history of exes who cheated on you. This trauma might have jaded you, causing you to see potential romantic partners as lying and untrustworthy. When a friend confides in you that she’s feeling uncomfortable with her boyfriend’s new, attractive colleague, your personal bias may cause you to encourage her jealousy by advising her to doubt his intentions. Even though you’re only trying to help, the fact that you cannot help but subconsciously project will end up causing more harm than good. If someone asks me for advice that I am not equipped to give, I honestly answer with “I do not have enough expertise or experience in this subject to give you helpful insight.”
In conclusion, advice giving and receiving can be tricky. Be selective with whom you receive your advice from. And, if you’re going to give advice, first, make sure that it’s wanted, and second, be aware of your own bias and projection.